This Old Dub

by Justin Sevakis,

This column is the last thing I do before I leave for a much-needed vacation. After working myself to the point of exhaustion for the last few months, I am finally taking a break and doing some traveling. I'm very excited!

But not to worry, next week I'll have a special Answerman for you, one that trolls into the deepest, darkest waters of anime industry lore. Be sure not to miss it!

Gabe asks:

I've noticed that mouth flap movements in anime don't always match all that well, compared to Western cartoons. While I don't have a problem with that, as they seem to make it easier to dub in different languages, I have to ask how many series or movies are there that have mouths move in sync with the voices? The only anime that comes to my mind is Akira. I read they recorded the voices before they did the animation, and that's how they were able to pull that off.

As many anime fans know, the animation process in Japan differs from the West in that the voices are recorded all in one big communal recording session after the animation is (mostly) complete. In America and elsewhere, the voices are all recorded "live", and the animation is made specifically to match the timing of the voices, so the flapping of their lips match what is being said. This doesn't happen very often in anime, which is why often Japanese voice tracks don't match the animation very well. It's just how they do things over there; the one very high-profile exception was the super-high budget film Akira, back in 1987. That was animated with the Western method.

Akira was a special case. Animating to pre-recorded voice tracks is very time-consuming and very expensive, so it's just not how Japan, with its shoestring budgets, severely crunched schedules and razor-thin profit margins, operates. There are a few cases over the years where lines are pre-recorded and the animation made to match, but most of them are either made for Western audiences (like Little Nemo), only done partially (like Grave of the Fireflies, in which the animation was redone to match the 6-year-old voice actress' lines -- you can't exactly expect a kid that young to match lip flap AND act at the same time), or was just done as a short experiment. More recently, Flowers of Evil was animated to match... well, entire live action sequences, dialogue and all. Things like this are not well documented, so it's hard to come up with more than a couple of examples.

In recent years, with the advance of digital animation technology, a new middle ground has developed. It used to be that if an actor missed their queue while in the booth, the engineer might "bump" the line into place, but if it still didn't look right, there wasn't much anybody could do, and the resulting animation just wouldn't match the voice very well. But with scenes being re-animated for DVD and Blu-ray more and more these days, particularly mismatched cuts can easily be tweaked to match the audio track. So, in a roundabout way, those redone scenes are, in fact, being animated to existing audio.

Scott asks:

As with any long-time anime DVD/Blu-ray collector, I have begun to accumulate quite a large collection and I'm beginning to run out of shelf space to store it all. Many of my DVDs and Blu-ray come in special, limited edition boxes that I plan to leave up on the shelf to look all pretty, but most are in your basic, no-frills, DVD and Blu-ray case. Now, I don't want to sell or throw many of these away but I would like to find an alternative, easily-accessible, storage option for them. What case(s) do you use to store all your DVDs/Blu-ray? What sleeves do you use, if any, to keep the individual discs safe? And lastly, are there any suggestions you have or problems people should look out for when storing DVDs and Blu-ray in this way?

Standard DVD cases drive me nuts. They get dirty, scratched and yellowed. They don't protect the paper insert very well, and they can get cracked, lose the teeth that hold the disc into place, and otherwise get screwed up. They do the job of presenting enough surface area to a customer in a store to fit in some nice artwork and some marketing stuff on the back, but once you've bought a disc, you don't REALLY need to see all of that. I mean, you probably want to save it, but it's just unnecessary to see it every time you want to pop in that disc.

I kept trying to maintain a giant wall of discs in cases until I decided to move across the country about five years ago. My collection was starting to get out of control by this time, and I was perpetually running out of shelf space in my tiny New York apartment. (I spent a couple hundred dollars buying slim and double-slim replacement cases, and carefully trimming down the inserts to fit in them, which is time and money I very much wish I had back.) I realized that paying money to ship all of those discs across the country was a hugely expensive proposition -- and the majority of that money would go to shipping all of those worthless cases.

So, at the suggestion of a friend and fellow media hoarder, I decided to get rid of those stupid cases once and for all. I trashed the lot of them (three very heavy garbage bags' worth!), alphabetized the inserts in a file box, and bought three huge, 600-disc flight cases for the discs. Since I've weeded out discs over the years, I still haven't filled them up yet. Two are for anime and one is for live action.

They're pretty easy to find online, but go in and out of stock in different models often, so just google "600 disc flight case," and order as many as you think you'll need (because you might never find the exact same model again). The flight cases come with hanging vinyl sleeves, which allow for easy shuffling around and alphabetization of the discs (which is really the only sane way of keeping track of a collection this big). The sleeves are lightly padded and do a good job of protecting the discs, and the cases themselves shield them from the sun. I haven't had any issues with sticking or scratching in those sleeves, and so far the system seems to work. You can order replacement sleeves online too, in case you run out or accidentally break a couple. I'm pretty happy.

Anybody else out there with a huge collection of discs have to come up with a creative way to store them? Go to the forum link below and clue us in!

John asks:

With both NISA re-releasing CardCaptor Sakura, and Viz re-releasing Sailor Moon, we're getting a bunch of classic magical girl shows on Blu-ray! But neither company managed to get the old dubs that aired on American television, which a lot of people remember fondly. Will we ever see these old dubs again, or are they just lost forever?

I don't know that they're lost forever, but they're certainly not going to resurface anytime soon.

A little background... It's hard to imagine today, but back in the 90s communication with Japan was anything but easy or cheap. Email wasn't common until the VERY late 90s (especially in Japanese companies), and forget about sending audio and video online. The only way to communicate was to call, send faxes (at very high international phone rates) or send something by international post. So, in the anime business, once a show got licensed to an American company, the Japanese licensor really couldn't do much to supervise the adaptation process.

Today, of course, is a much different story. Producers expect (and receive) a huge amount of control over the US packaging, dub scripts, casting, and everything else. But back in the 90s, the companies got away with just about anything. Usually things went fine, and sometimes permission was asked before anything too crazy was attempted. But quite often, the American company just went ahead and did things, and the producers of the show wouldn't find out about it until it was too late. A lot of shows were altered quite a bit during this period -- Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura among them -- but we can only guess as to what was authorized and what wasn't.

Another problem is that while Japanese copyright law and the entertainment system over there is supposed to let the original creators of a show sign off on creative decisions and otherwise maintain control over their creations, that often didn't happen back in the 90s. The publisher of the original work, acting as their agent, would just take care of things, and the creator wouldn't even be consulted. This was especially an issue with shoujo manga and female manga artists. Flash forward to today, and if those artists are now powerful and successful, then you can bet they're going to be a lot more controlling of their work... and probably are not willing to keep approving the existence of versions they never liked.

When a show gets licensed rescued, the licensor often doesn't even have the rights to the adapted version (especially if the company doing the adaptation before was a big company like DIC or Nelvana). A new company rescuing a show like that would have to track down the rights to the adapted show separately. But even if they did, the licensor would have to OK its use. If the licensor is embarrassed over what happened before, or the creator was frustrated that their show got heavily adapted, there is no way they'd OK a re-release of it.

Frankly, the only reason we're getting so many re-releases of 90s dubs is because a show is so old that often nobody in Japan cares anymore.

Leigh asks:

I'd like to know why dubbing companies don't take more chances on old-school anime. I mean, just look at how long it took my favorite character, Locke the Superman, to get a subtitled DVD release for his feature film. There's a market for nostalgia with older fans, so what prevents old-school anime from getting a chance to shine? Are people afraid that there's just no interest whatsoever? Or is it simply a matter of copyrights and distribution contracts?

Making new dubs of old shows is a losing proposition for a couple of reasons. The first, and most obvious one, is that old shows don't sell very many copies. Licensing and producing DVDs of these oldies might cost a publisher only a few thousand dollars, start-to-finish, whereas dubbing a show would cost, at minimum, $7,000 per episode. When older shows are lucky to move 1,000 units on DVD, that's simply a dumb investment.

The other reason is that shows made before the 90s often don't have existing "M&E" tracks -- separate audio tracks containing the music and sound effects, but no dialogue, which is required when dubbing a show. If they do exist, they're usually not on any video master, but rather on old, unsynchronized reel-to-reel audio tapes. Those things have no timecode, often stretch with age, and generally don't synchronize with the video at all anymore. Some of them have degraded to the point where the magnetic oxide layer is flaking off of the tape. (There's a practice where such stricken tapes must be baked in an oven at a low temperature to reset the glue temporarily, but they still sound terrible when that happens.)

Without a useful M&E track, any dub production would require coming up with an all-new audio track, including sound effects and music queues. That's expensive, fraught with legal issues on the approvals-from-Japan side of things, and also an absolute nightmare for anyone unfortunate enough to be working on such a project. It's just not worth the trouble.

And that's all for this week! Got questions for me? Send them in! The e-mail address, as always, is answerman (at!)

Justin Sevakis is the founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap, and check out his bi-weekly column on obscure old stuff, Pile of Shame.

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